Japan and Europe Adapt to Life under the Shadow of Terror Threats
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Just before Japanese troops were dispatched to Iraq, prefectural police headquarters across the nation markedly tightened up security against possible terrorist attacks. When Japanese citizens awoke on Friday 16 January, there was a visible police presence at all of Japan's airports, major railway stations and nuclear power facilities. According to NHK news, at Tokyo Station the number of railway police officers was increased from the usual 25 to about 40. Most of Japan's police forces were put on high alert for terror attacks. Evening news programmes showed smartly dressed officers patrolling train stations and airports. For perhaps the first time since the Iraq war started, ordinary Japanese people had a real sense that their country was a potential terrorist target. It was a feeling their European counterparts had been experiencing since late last year.
Ever since the Istanbul terrorist attacks last November, Europeans have felt that Al-Qaeda-related terrorism could strike at any moment. This feeling was reinforced during the run-up to Christmas when police forces in many European countries were put on a heightened state of alert. Policemen became more visible across the continent, especially at airports where troops were also deployed in some countries.
In London, the police were out on the streets in force. Perhaps one of the heaviest police presences was seen in Ealing, a popular area of west London. This was the site of the last terrorist attack in the capital. On 2 August 2001, a dissident IRA terrorist group detonated a massive car bomb in Ealing Broadway, a district packed with pubs and restaurants. Miraculously nobody was killed, although a number of people were injured. The blast was so powerful that it destroyed several buildings and closed the high street for over a week. The final rebuilding work was only completed in early January 2004. The sight of so many police officers patrolling Ealing's main shopping centre must have reawaken the memory of the bombing in the minds of many Christmas shoppers. Yet, with typical British resolve, this did not seem to dampen their spirits.
Unlike pre-September 11 America, both Japan and Europe have experienced terrorism. This has ranged from bombings committed by separatist movements and ultra-leftist groups to attacks by doomsday cults. In Japan, the most notorious incident of mass terror was the 20 March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. This single act left 12 people dead and injured 3,794. In recent years, Europe has witnessed some truly horrific acts of terrorism. For example, in Northern Ireland on 15 August 1998 a huge bomb on a busy shopping street in the town of Omagh killed 29 people and injured over 300. The ending of the Moscow Theatre siege in late October 2002 cost the lives of 119 hostages.
From an American perspective, Europe and Japan must seem like places plagued by well-armed terror groups like Spain's ETA, Northern Ireland's IRA or Japan's Aum Shinrikyo. Perhaps this familiarity with terrorist atrocities explains why Europeans and Japanese have so quickly adapted to life under the shadow of Al-Qaeda-terrorist threats. It probably also partly explains why both European and Japanese reaction to the new Al-Qaeda-terrorist threat has been different from that in the United States.
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J. Sean Curtin, Europe Report #64, 1 December 2003
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